No Garden Party

Killings and slum conditions are just the beginning

(Heckler didn't know about the accident. The complex has been damaged by hurricanes, and owners await insurance money, he contends. Furthermore, Barot is no longer an owner but retains financial interest, Heckler says. He was unable to name the new owners.)

Indeed city inspectors have discovered problems. But they haven't been very aggressive. Records show only two code violations since July at the Port Said Road property — for "hazardous conditions" and "minimal housing issues." There was no written explanation, but both problems had allegedly been corrected as of November 3, the records show.

The same holds true for another, smaller property belonging to the company, at 13436 Aswan Rd. There have been more violations — ten since May for things like nonworking fire alarms, garbage, and free-roaming chickens — but all are noted as "corrected." There was no mention of the numerous holes in walls, broken windows, or open sewage I saw.

The Aswan property has also been deadly. A drug dealer fired at cops there in March before he was arrested, and on October 13, 25-year-old Gregory Fraser was killed in a shoot-out with police. One Miami-Dade Police officer was wounded twice — with 39mm rounds from an AK-47 — in that incident. An Opa-locka cop was hit by the getaway car.

Officers "felt they were totally outgunned," says county Commissioner Barbara Jordan. "The public had total disregard for police."

Adds Chef Wright: "This must never happen again."

Armando Fana, director of HUD's Miami field office, recently toured the property. He suggested repairs would cost $10 million and that residents would have to be relocated. "I have never seen a property this bad," he comments.

But improving the Gardens might not be so easy. Political infighting in Opa-locka is epidemic. City Commissioner Timothy Holmes, who was re-elected last week — and whose twelve-foot-high image appears on a campaign sign in front of the Port Said property — defends the city's approach to the property. "We have a good code enforcement department," he says, "but we need to be more aggressive." And Holmes is at war with Wright. "We have a chief of police who just doesn't give a damn," he says. "Chief Wright is the problem."

Responds Wright: "Holmes has run roughshod over the city for years."

Rev. Alfred Clark, who hopes to dedicate a youth outreach center at the Port Said property in December, says something must be done. "There are 900 kids who live in this place, and it's deplorable. They can't move. When you are poor, you have no choice."

Staff Writer Calvin Godfrey contributed to this report.

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